For anyone who’s spent a considerable amount of time living in Dubai, the mention of Park n Shop is bound to elicit warm, fuzzy feelings. To long-time residents, it’s a bigger part of Dubai’s character than the Burj Khalifa. Alongside the Barasti Beach Bar and Al Ghurair Centre, Park n Shop is a precious piece of the past in this frantically expanding city.
Every time I step into the store, I am transported to 2001, when I had just moved to Dubai. My husband is taken back a decade farther – to 1991 – when a small grocery on Al Wasl Road had just relocated to a shiny new complex and renamed itself Park n Shop. An avid comic-book collector, he’s been buying his weekly stash there for 22 years.
A few years ago, when there was talk of demolishing the complex where Park n Shop is located to make way for a new building, old-time residents of Dubai practically took to the streets. Petitions were signed, letters written to various newspaper editors and a general fuss was created, which led the powers that be to abandon their idea. The residents were delighted: their efforts had saved one of their beloved trademarks. Park n Shop and all the other tiny shops around it were safe for a few more years.
My husband and I swung by Park n Shop this weekend as usual. He bought a few comic books and I picked up a few doodahs. We got into the car and as we were driving out of the complex, I spotted something that made me do a double take and we turned back around. The shopfront of Hi-Fi Video, a DVD rental store, was covered with “Shop Closing” signs.
How could this be happening? As far as we are concerned, Hi-Fi Video is as much a part of the local scenery as Park n Shop – and for almost as long. You pop into Park n Shop to buy some milk and then you go to Hi-Fi to rent a DVD of the latest blockbuster. That’s how things work around here.
We entered the shop bewildered and grimaced at the shelves, which, in an indication of impending doom, were half-empty. An optimist could say they were half-full, but there was no ignoring the “3 DVDs for Dh60” signs all around.
“Why are you closing the shop?” we asked the melancholic-looking woman – clearly the owner.
She sighed resignedly. “I am tired of chasing after customers.”
She was referring to people who disappear with DVDs or damage them or refuse to pay – it was just too much hassle. Goodness only knows how she did it for 20 years, but she couldn’t do it anymore.
As sad as I felt on hearing her confession (this truly was the end of an era), I sympathised with her. I had owned and run a beauty salon for a couple of years. I too decided to stop because I was tired of chasing after customers. In my case, though, it was a two-year-old shop and one among the dozens of salons on the same block.
Hi-Fi Video is different. At one time, it was probably the only video-rental shop in the area. Imagine when it opened 20 years ago, when there were no DVDs, no internet, no satellite television. Places such as Hi-Fi Video were where we headed when we wanted to go to war or fall in love. There was something about picking out a film from rows and rows of titles that can never be matched by the simple click and scroll of websites.
The writer is an honest-to-goodness desi living in Dubai